A book lover’s take on the iPad

The future seems scary if you’re a book … or a human being.

by Jenna H. Beyer

Last week, Apple announced the release of the iPad, a superslim touchscreen lovechild of the iPhone and the Macbook. On-the-go business bloggers praised the iPad for its innovation and convenience; other on-the-go business bloggers condemned it for not having expected features. There was so much press about the iPad that it became just like that amazing new album everybody else heard first and talked up: disappointing. No âÄúmultitasking.âÄù No Flash. Blah, blah, blah. Everyone knows itâÄôs only a matter of time before a tablet computer like the iPad (with a name that doesnâÄôt sound like a feminine hygiene product) becomes a commonplace tool. When the iPod first hit the scene, I swore IâÄôd never get one. It was expensive, it mangled the concept of the album, and I had no idea why IâÄôd ever need all my music with me all the time. Now, if I go somewhere without my iPod or it dies, I feel exposed. Something I originally considered frivolous and unnecessary became a vital, useful part of my daily life. And so it went with my laptop and the Internet. However useful it is on a daily basis, I function best when IâÄôm away from the Web, focusing only on whatâÄôs in front of me. I dream about the summer days when I leave my apartment with only my purse, which can hold my phone, wallet, iPod, a trade-sized paperback, bike gloves and a fair amount of lint and loose change. No room at the inn for little baby Internet. As an aspiring writer and a human being, I hold onto the value of simple living. I donâÄôt want to bring the whole world with me everywhere I go. I want to rely on myself to keep myself organized, not a device that can easily crash, and I never want to be one of those cyber-social douchebags who click their iDevice all the way through coffee with a friend. Indeed, the iPad may be way cooler, but it could also be the Bluetooth earpiece of the 2010s. And IâÄôve lost two computers and two cell phones to water damage over the years. Go ahead, call me a klutz âÄî IâÄôm just stating facts. I have felt the insecure pangs of technologyâÄôs absence and the weighty cost of replacement. In many ways, these realizations fuel my connection with the printed page. I like to hold a paper copy of âÄúThe Sound and the FuryâÄù in my hands and underline things. I like to run my fingers across the paper and think deeply about font choices and wonder who Lynn Gulden was based on the erratic scribbles she left inside her 1958 copy of âÄúThe Waste Land.âÄù A new course at the University of Minnesota will teach students how to build applications for smart devices like the iPad. While this program is on the cusp of an economically promising techno-frontier and captures obvious student interest, it highlights a priority that exists at the University and in ourselves: a preference to engage with the newest technologies over whatâÄôs already in front of us. As an English student, IâÄôve had some amazing professors and advisers, but IâÄôm not alone in feeling low on the totem pole in the broader scheme of things. (The next time you walk past that new science building, consider the fact that English has been in âÄútemporary housingâÄù in Lind Hall for several decades.) While departments across campus struggle to retain valuable instructors and fill course schedules in a serious economic crunch, new classes are being offered in the field of Apple apps, of which there are already over 130,000. Why doesnâÄôt the University offer courses on things that enrich our lives and help us deal with the worldâÄôs challenges, such as âÄúlanding quality employment with a liberal arts degreeâÄù or University budget efficiency? The future weâÄôre so readily embracing, while a logical next step, makes me worry about our culture and my ability to maintain my own values after graduation. WhatâÄôs going to happen in a few years or months when all information will finally be everywhere on a reasonably sized screen? Will my future boss expect me to have Web access at the drop of a hat? Can I believe in that kind of a lifestyle or culture? Will I have a choice? I have a nightmare scenario. In this scenario, most books are sold in an e-book store, and though there is some variation in cover design and font choice, they all basically look the same. Many people buy these pretend books, which cost $15. Large publishers do well in the giant switch to e-media, and medium-sized niche market publishers hang on, but small independent guys all have a harder time than usual, putting an obvious strain on emerging writers, who try to combat the tyranny by releasing free e-books. There are so many that nobody really reads any of them. The small audience for independent writers still hasnâÄôt bought e-readers. Good book stores go out of business, and it gets even harder to find quality used books because people donâÄôt need to sell their âÄúoldâÄù digital copies to create space on their e-bookshelves. People who still appreciate real paper books keep every last one, selling a few on eBay at hugely inflated prices, and âÄúflash nonfiction,âÄù âÄúflash poetry,âÄù especially âÄúflash haikuâÄù gain popularity because people can no longer focus on any one thing for more than 45 seconds. The nightmare continues. I get an iPad for Christmas from my parents and become so busy from having a âÄúreal jobâÄù that I use it âĦ all the time. Not just to respond to e-mails from street corners, but to buy and read books because shopping for used books has become too time-consuming, and itâÄôs just so easy to do it all from the waiting room in the dentistâÄôs office. And my boss at my unpaid internship uses e-manuscripts because it saves money and paper. My entire nightmare scenario is unlikely to happen soon, but as a bibliophile, IâÄôm going to err on the safe side and resist the iPad and other mobile e-mailers as long as humanly possible. Wish me luck. Jenna H. Beyer welcomes comments at [email protected].